Most of us are familiar with Grimm’s fairy tale of the princess and the frog. A prince, having fallen under the hex of a witch, was changed into a frog, and a frog he would have to remain until a certain princess should take him home and share her table and bed with him. Only then would he be a prince again.

Each day the frog sat by a spring in the forest lamenting his fate. One hot day the princess retired into the coolness of the forest, tossing a golden ball into the air as she went. As she came to the spring she inadvertently dropped the ball, and it fell into the depths of the pool. All attempts to retrieve it proved in vain. Seizing the opportunity, the frog volunteered to fetch the precious ball, provided the princess would promise to grant a request of his. In hopes of getting back the golden ball, the princess hastily agreed. Thereupon the frog dove to the bottom of the pool and soon produced the golden ball. In her excitement over recovering the treasure, the princess dashed home happily, forgetting her promise to the hapless frog. As the story turns out, not until later—and after the persistent efforts of both the frog and her own father—was the princess persuaded to keep faith with the frog.

Most of us, I think, are inclined to criticize the princess for lapsing in her promise to the frog. But we know something the princess does not know: namely, that the frog is actually a prince in the shape of a frog. That, the princess does not know. To her the frog is merely a frog. The thought of the little beast eating off the same plate with her causes each bite of food to stick in her throat; the thought of having to share the clean linen on her bed with the cold creature throws her into spasms of repulsion.

Who of us, ...

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